The holidays are a great time of year for showing your love to family, friends, and arguably the cutest of the lot, our beloved pets. It can be easy to get caught up in all the festivities that you may not have your eye on the ball as much, or let rules slide a little as you relax and enjoy the company (and perhaps the wine!). This is not too much of a problem in many respects, but for our animals, this can be a very bad idea. Those table scraps might be hiding a toxic ingredient, and that beautiful bouquet may just be about to ruin your day. This handy guide details some of the things you should be on the look out for this holiday season, from dangerous plants to poisonous foods, and lists what you can do to prevent your animals from getting sick, or worse, so that you can make the most out of the festive period without worry or concern.

Poisonous Foods

Food is abundant during the festive period, and you may want to share some of the deliciousness with your furry friends. However, be warned, that most foods commonly consumed this time of year are highly toxic. We all know about chocolate and alcohol (which should go without saying, really!), but there are other dangerous foods you should know about such as raisins (think: mince pies), which can cause serious illness after just one or two bites, and death in larger amounts. High-fat foods are the leading cause of pancreatitis in dogs, and this time of year more than ever vets must deal with this condition. Here is a list of foods you should avoid feeding your pets:

  • Mince pies
  • Christmas cake
  • Chocolate
  • Bones (especially ham bones and chicken bones)
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Caffeine
  • Onions, Garlic, Chives (think: stuffing)
  • Yeast Dough
  • Corn on the cob
  • Xylitol (a sweetener found in some desserts and drinks)
  • Milk
  • Turkey or chicken skin
  • Anything strongly spiced or herby
  • Pigs in blankets
  • Gravy

Plants And Flowers

Another common danger this Christmas time is the beautiful plants and wreaths we often bring into the house. Pets sometimes like to chew plants for roughage, but many are simply curious and want to try and eat anything new that comes into the house! Holly and mistletoe berries, poinsettias, and amaryllis are some of the most toxic plants likely to enter the home this time of year, so please make sure they are placed where your pets won’t get to them, or better yet, opt for a safe plant such as a Christmas cactus instead. Lilies are also toxic, especially to cats, who often rub against them when walking past and end up ingesting all of the pollen when they groom.

Other important considerations include the ornaments on the Christmas tree – never leave a pet alone with the lights turned on, and especially, never leave your pet alone with the tree.

Keeping Them Comfortable

Some animals get very fearful and stressed this time of year, when fireworks may be going off outside, crackers inside, and the house full of noisy people and music. If your pet is not one to join in the celebrations, set up a quiet room just for him or her – provide plenty of blankets, soothing music, food and water, toys for stimulation (a treat ball is great), check on them frequently and allow time to use the litter box or a walk. Keep children out of this room, as they are a source of real stress for many pets. A thundersuit may be useful for your dog if he is afraid of the fireworks, and catnip and calming sprays can be used for anxious cats. Keep your cats inside over the busy few days especially at night as any loud explosions may cause them to run away in a panic. If your hometown gets, a lot of icy weather can also be a risk.

Tips to Avoid an Emergency Vet Visit:

It is a good idea to learn the emergency after-hours number of your local vet practices so that if disaster does occur you can take swift action. Keep animals calm, but continue to treat them just as you usually would – long walks to tire out your dog before you sit down to that huge meal for example, or using your kitty’s new festive teaser toy to keep him happy and content. Here are some more tips to help make the holidays a fun time for all:

  • No booze or caffeine – clear cups and glasses away and put all coffee and alcohol out of reach of your pet.
  • Keep pets out of the busy kitchen to prevent accidents.
  • Don’t overfeed your pet – with their own food/treats or with human food/treats.
  • Dispose carefully of wrappers, human food, and especially bones.
  • Take the garbage out and whether the garbage bags are inside or out secure them so they can’t be broken into. Dispose of leftovers, especially the bird carcass, carefully.
  • Ask all visitors not to feed your pet anything. It is easier than trying to get everyone to follow the food rules above, and if everyone gives your pet tit bits, it will soon add up to a lot of extra food.
  • If you do choose to bring any of these plants into the home, or place them near the entry way where your pet can reach them, be very careful about where you are placing them. Cats, especially, need to be considered, since they can jump to high shelves. But, if your dog or cat does manage to ingest any part of these holiday plants, call your veterinarian or poison control immediately to find out what you should do to minimize the damage.
  • Keep burning candles far out of reach of pets, and never leave them burning unattended.

This advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health – even if they are closed, they will always have an out of hours service available. You can also call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline.